Three Ex-Bankers Win Netflix Backing to Shake Up Bollywood

Three Ex-Bankers Win Netflix Backing to Shake Up Bollywood

A tiny digital studio is making a name for itself in the world’s most prolific movie industry, Bollywood. It has also scored funding from a marquee Silicon Valley investor.
Three Ex-Bankers Win Netflix Backing to Shake Up Bollywood
Netflix

A tiny digital studio is making a name for itself in the world’s most prolific movie industry, Bollywood. It has also scored funding from a marquee Silicon Valley investor right after nailing a deal to stream its most popular show on Netflix. Pocket Aces Pvt has managed to raise $14.7 million from Sequoia Capital, DSP Group, 3one4 Capital amongst others to finance content that is aimed at pushing Indian shows beyond hackneyed Bollywood formulas -- like “saas-bahu” or typical family dramas. It’s one of a band of startups shifting away from well acquainted staples in an attempt to try and hook an expanding population of mobile viewers. Pocket Aces plans to use the funds to get their fingers into gaming content, make strategic procurements and boost production to 30 shows a year from the current mere dozen.

India has developed into a battlefield for global streaming giants from Netflix Inc. to Amazon.com Inc. and Walt Disney Co. They’re drawn by a market that could potentially hit 829 million smartphone users by the year 2022, compared with about half a billion now, according to research conducted by Cisco Systems Inc.

Last week, Netflix raised the stakes by announcing one of the world’s cheapest streaming subscriptions: an under-$3 monthly mobile-only plan for India. On Monday, two of its leading homegrown streaming rivals -- ALTBalaji and ZEE5 -- announced they were collaborating to create more than 60 original shows, share their audience insights and grow their subscriptions.

The Mumbai-based, 145-person Pocket Aces utilizes artificial intelligence to test genres, actors and plot lines in pilots before officially converting them into longer shows for streaming platforms, social media channels and other apps. "Our shows garner 500 million views per month and we aim to hit 1 billion monthly views by 2020," said co-founder Aditi Shrivastava.

The business was miraculously conceived out of a multitude of dorm-room conversations between co-founders Anirudh Pandita, 34, and Ashwin Suresh, 35 who were both engineering undergraduates at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. They both went on to work on Wall Street before beginning their company in 2014. They were later joined by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. alum Shrivastava.

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